In Public Service: Clarke wants more focus on black women
Lawmaker says females are largely ignored
The national conversation about race largely focuses on the plight of black men, but U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke said that it is about to change, as the spotlight is starting to focus on women.
“There was not a balance in the dialogue about black Americans. The emphasis has always been on the struggles of black men. We think the time is ripe to bring a balance to the conversation,” Clarke told the Brooklyn Eagle in a recent phone interview.
Clarke, a Democrat who represents the Ninth Congressional District in Central Brooklyn, is part of a quiet revolution taking place in the House of Representatives and around the country.
In April, she joined forces with two of her colleagues, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois) to form the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. The caucus leaders are currently holding meetings with women in various locations around the country to learn more about their struggles as well as their triumphs.
The goal, according to Clarke, is to push the country to start looking at the black community from “a holistic standpoint.”
The ultimate goal is to push for major changes in public policy.
There is much to discuss, according to Clarke, who said the statistics are troubling.
For example, while working women in general make 79 cents to every dollar men make, for black women, the figure is lower, at 64 cents.
Black women make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they are 30 percent of the prison population, Clarke said.
Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts.
And things aren’t much better for educated black women, Clarke said. Black women with bachelor’s degrees wind up earning over their lifetimes around the same as white women with no college education, she said.
Clarke said that while the statistics are shocking, she is not surprised by them. “These are things that I have heard anecdotally for a long time,” she told the Eagle. “There are societal structures that erect barriers that black women face that white women don’t.”
One problem is that black women, who are a diverse group, are seen as a monolith, Clarke lamented. “The portrayal of black women by the media is extremely troubling. There is the stereotype of the angry black woman and the stereotype that all black women are impoverished. We are viewed as a monolith. It confounds me. The national discussion doesn’t represent the spectrum of experiences that black women have,” she said.
In fact, black women are the fastest growing group of business entrepreneurs in the U.S.
“We are also looking for more opportunities for black women,” Clarke said.
Clarke and her colleagues are not quite ready to release a report on their findings. “We are still gathering testimony,” she said.
Clarke is a former member of the New York City Council, where she co-chaired the Women’s Caucus and helped to form the HIV/AIDS Task Force.
When she was elected to represent the 40th Council District in 2001, she succeeded her mother, former Councilmember Dr. Una Clarke. Una and Yvette Clarke made history by becoming the first mother and daughter combination to successively hold the same City Council seat.
Una Clarke is a groundbreaking figure in New York City politics. She was the first Jamaican-born person to win a City Council seat.
Yvette Clarke attended public schools as a child and went on to attend Oberlin College. She was a recipient of the APPAM/Sloan Fellowship in Public Policy.
Yvette Clarke ran for the congressional seat in the Ninth Congressional District in 2006 and won. The district includes parts of several Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Crown Heights, Brownsville, East Flatbush, Prospect Heights, Midwood and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens.
During her decade in Congress, Clarke has worked to secure federal funding for projects and programs in the district, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the Prospect Park Alliance.
Clarke is also a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a panel that has a varied portfolio dealing in everything from consumer protections to telecommunications to health care.
“I’ve been looking at what the 21st-century communications structure looks like and the adjustments that need to be made to ensure that there is a diversity of voices,” she told the Eagle.
“In the 20th century, we had the telephone and television and later, cable television. In the 21st century, there is the internet, podcasts and other forms of communication. We are looking for opportunities for people of color to become part of that conversation,” she said.
Clarke said she is always working to try to level the playing field in the communications industry so that a diversity of voices can be accommodated. “How does one access a podcast? We must make sure that access is equalized,” she said.
Clarke said she is also eager to have the country look at the crisis of climate change through a lens of renewable energy sources.
It’s an uphill battle, she conceded.
“Many here on Capitol Hill benefit from the fossil fuel industry,” she said, adding that there is a reluctance to address climate change and move the country toward the use of solar and wind power and other forms of renewable energy.
“Climate change is real,” Clarke said. “Superstorm Sandy and the destruction it caused to our shoreline taught us that there is a host of things we need to be doing to spur resiliency. I’m really a voice advocating for that level of discussion.”
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